Leakey, who was the head of the East African Archaeological Expedition (1926), recovered remains of animals that are since extinct, among them a short-necked variance of the modern giraffe, which he named Sivatherium. The direct ancestor of modern humans (Homo Erectus or Homo Habilis) has also been discovered in Kenya. Life notwithstanding, the floor of the rift valley had numerous lakes (extensive, deeper and fresh) now extinct.
Most of the fossils and archaeological materials have been found along the northern and central rift and are preserved at the national museums of Kenya headquarters in Nairobi and in others in the country. The headquarters of NMK is within walking distance of Nairobi City Center on Museum Hill Road.
Many discoveries relating to the stories of human evolution, including hominids and other faunal remains, early evidence of archaeological tools, discoveries of human-controlled fire and footprints of different animals and early humans, have put Kenya in the world map. Proconsul Heseloni is a fossil that was excavated during Louis Leakey’s 1947-1948 expeditions in Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria. The fossil dated about 18 million years, has morphological characteristics similar to those of a primitive ape.
Another important fossil discovery was that of Paranthropus Boisei (KNM-ER 406) skull discovered by Richard Leakey in 1969 at Koobi Fora, east of Lake Turkana. This fossil has enabled Paleontologists to study sexual dimorphism in hominids. There is a clear morphological definition between males and females.
Another fossil that has been instrumental in the study of human origins is the famous skeleton of Homo Erectus, known as “Turkana Boy” (KNM-WT 15000). The hominid was discovered at Nariokotome, West Lake Turkana, in 1984 by Mr. Kamoya Kimeu.
Kimeu received the Legeorge Medal from the Us President Ronald Reagan in 1985 for the discovery of the fossil. It is the most complete skeleton of an early human ancestor.
He was 11 or 12 years old, and stood at 1.6 M tall. He roamed the harsh landscape in search of higher quality food than what earlier hominids such as Australopithecines ate.
Although the early discoveries are important in human evolution, other recent finds have significantly enhanced knowledge of the evolutionary history of early humans.
Some of the most recent and important finds include the skull of Kenyanthropus Platyops. Popularly known as the ‘Flat-Faced man from Kenya’, the skull was found at Lomekwi in Northern Kenya by a team led by Meave Leakey (1998-1999). It is dated about 3.5 million years ago. The fossil is similar in a number of aspects to Austrapithecus Afarensis from Ethiopia, which is represented by a partial skeleton.
Homo erectus and Homo Habilis
Another find in 2000 is a Homo Erectus Skull at Ileret East of Lake Turkana and dated 1.56 million years old. A jawbone attributed to Homo Habilis was also found in the same area. These are clear indications that the two species co-existed for about 500,000 years. This contrasts with the long held belief that Homo Erectus evolved from Homo Habilis.
Though fossil evidence is not restricted to the Lake Turkana region and extends to other areas along the Rift Valley, scientists believe that the area surrounding the lake was populated because it had lush green, was wetter and inhabited by wildlife – factors that may have attracted the early humans. All manner of Wildlife, including Elephants, Hippos, Rhino and Buffaloes, lived there.
Man, Chimps and Gorilla
In the Volcanic Mudflow deposits on the eastern shoulder of the Central Rift Valley in Nakali, about 40 km from Maralal Town, a fossil jaw of Nakalipithecus Nakayamai, which is about 10 million years old, was recovered in 2006.
According to scientists, the fossil was probably the last link between Humans and Gorillas and Chimpanzees, and gives an insight into the close link between humans and apes. National Museums of Kenya Paleontologist Fredrick Manthi says: “based on this discovery, we can now almost reliably say we are approaching the point at which we can pin down the so-called missing link.”
The fossil derives the name ‘Nakalipithecus’ from the site of discovery, while ‘Nakayamai’ is the name of the Japanese Geologist who died while doing the research.
Other important discoveries in Kenya include materials that tell about the cultures and social structures of our ancestors. To the west of Lake Turkana (Lokalalei) are stone tools dated 2.3 million years (the second oldest so far in the world). The oldest, dated 2.5 million years ago, was found in Hadar in the Omo Valley, Ethiopia).
The tools are classified as the Oldowan Industry. Sites of the tools’ evidence are found in Koobi Fora (east of Lake Turkana).
Other stone tools include the Oldowan developed industry such as the Karari Scraper dated about 1.4 million -1.6 million years. There is also evidence of human-controlled fire at Koobi-Fora (Karari) as well as footprints of humans and animals (aquatic and terrestrial) at Koobi Fora and Ileret8.
Other sites with evidence of past human cultures include Kariandusi (near Gilgil) and Olorgesaile (about 60 km west of Nairobi).
The period known as middle Stone Age (beginning about 300,000 years ago) and late Stone Age (beginning about 50,000 years ago) has plenty of evidence related to human origins. During the middle stone age, humans known as Homo Sapiens Sapiens were in existence. They developed more diverse and specialized tools, including arrows and bone harpoons, which were used for hunting and fishing.
During the late Stone Age, Homo sapiens came to be and lived in complex societies and had social networking. Archaeological records during the period depict an explosion of new technological, artistic and symbolic innovations. At the time, there was diversification and specialization in the use of resources, including hunting, gathering and domestication of Wild Animals and Plants.
In Kenya, evidence of this has been found in Central Rift Valley at Songor, prolonged drift, Muguruk, Prospect Farm, Gambles Cave and Lukenya Hills, among others.
The late Stone Age led to the Iron Age, a period in which iron was widely used, revolutionizing farming and the communities that practiced it. They drove out hunter-gatherer societies they encountered as they expanded into the savannah.
They initiated technologies and economies similar to what we see today. It is thus clear that Kenya has a rich history that can only be ignored by those who do so conveniently and purposefully.
Scientists have empirically documented and collected the evidence. The collections and sites are accessible to Kenyans and visitors alike.